Ateneo de Davao University

Ateneo de Davao

Understanding the local context of Isis recruitment

IN THE recent news today, a lot of our politicians (local and national) are pressuring the Moro fronts (Moro National Liberation Front or MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to root out extremists in their camps and areas of responsibilities, and to publicly denounce terrorism done in the name of Islam.

Last week, it was reported on the news that President Rodrigo Duterte urged these two Moro fronts to deny sanctuary to emerging groups rising in the fashion of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis). In the same news, our president said he will not hesitate to flex the strength of the Armed Forces in neutralizing terrorists holding out in any camp of the MILF and the MNLF.

I totally support the message of our president. These two fronts are now partners of our government in terms of providing peace, security, and development in Southern Mindanao.

As we can recall, during the time of President Ramos, the MNLF signed a final peace accord with Malacañang on Septemebr 2, 1996.

The agreement binds both sides to jointly address peace and security issues in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. During the time of President Noynoy Aquino, the MILF had to sign two agreements with the National Government, the October 15, 2013 Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro and the March 27, 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro.

Why do people join or support groups like Isis?

Based on the recent studies and research of Al Qalam Institute of Ateneo de Davao University, there is massive recruitment of ISIS on the ground. The recruitment is happening not inside the mosques or madrasah, but in the homes of fanatical Isis supporters that connects with the community because of their bloodlines and kinships. Poor Muslim families are lured to join the group because of the money that will be given to them.

On the part of the Muslim youth, some are attracted to the principles and ideology of Isis because of three things. First, they want a Muslim identity that connects to the wider Muslim brotherhood. Second, they want to belong to a group, a peer, or a “barkada.” And, lastly, they want to have “meaning” in their life.

The identity component is crucial in the process of Isis recruitment. Most Muslim Filipinos do not ascribe to be called Filipino. They believe that they are Moros or Bangsamoro.

Recent academic discussions coined the term Bangsamoro, derived from the old Malay word “bangsa,” meaning “race” or “nation” with the “Moro” as “people,” is now used to describe both the Filipino Muslims and their homeland.

The term Bangsamoro carries the aspiration of the Filipino Muslims to have their right to self determination. Therefore, some of the Filipino Muslims still ascribe to be a Moro than a Filipino.

International research groups on terrorism and violent extremism calls this problem as “identity seekers.” This simply means that there are people, especially the youth who are prone to feeling isolated or alienated, these individuals “often feel like outsiders in their initial unfamiliar/unintelligible environment and seek to identify with another group.” Islam, for many of these provides “a pre-packaged transnational identity.” They can connect further with this identity because of the use of social media.

The sense of “belonging” to a group or a community also plays a big factor in the violent radicalization of our youth today. They call this community as “Ummah.”

Terror groups like Isis constructs the notion of the Muslim Ummah (Muslim community), which seeks to lay emphasis on the unity of an international Muslim community based on the supremacy of Islam, not only as a religion but a political ideology.

Leaders of the Isis, structures the model of an Ummah devoted to the Caliphate in two ways: mainly, by calling upon Islam to form a singular global Muslim body while speaking of far-reaching Quranic appeals for jihad and the creation of a Caliphate; and then, via the structuring of an undiscerning rival, one that clashes with the “camp of Islam” – “the camp of kufr.”

This rhetoric may sound appealing and meaningful for some Muslims. However, more than 70,000 Islamic clerics worldwide issued a religious fatwa condemning terrorism and Isis. All of them claim that Isis is un-Islamic and contrary to the teachings of prophet Muhammad (Saw).

Similar to the view of John Esposito, American professor of International Affairs and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., the “drivers of radicalization include moral outrage, disaffection, peer pressure, the search for a new identity, and for a sense of meaning, purpose and belonging.” There is a need for us to understand this and find ways of addressing them.

Research into the psychology of the mind of people who join violent extremism suggests that a person’s cultural identity plays a key role in radicalization.

The Bangsamoro people who strongly identify with their heritage culture and not with the mainstream Filipino culture, feel marginalized and insignificant.

Their experiences of discrimination make the situation worse and lead to greater support for radicalism, which promises a sense of meaning and life purpose. They do not see themselves as part of the Filpino nation. We need to address this by providing government programs that will cater their religious and cultural needs.

Although we support the military solution in the problem of violent extremism, we also need to understand the bigger picture involve. There is a critical need for academics and policymakers to better understand the puzzle of how and why some people turn to violent extremism and some join and support the terror groups like Isis. Academe and research work can help on this.